University of Saskatchewan Researchers Explore Global History of Psychedelics in New Book

They hope the book will highlight the diversity of influence psychedelics have had in communities and cultures around the world.  

Photo caption: Erika Dyck (left) and Zoë Dubus

Despite a growing body of clinical research pointing to the efficacy of psychedelics in treating a range of mental-health conditions, there’s a lot that the general public doesn’t know about psychedelics.

That’s one of the reasons that Erika Dyck, Ph.D., a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan, decided to aggregate research and essays on psychedelics in a book.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a resurgence in interest in the potential benefits of psychedelics,” she said. “We wanted to look at not only the clinical context … but different ways psychedelics got out of that clinical context.”

Published by MIT Press, “Expanding Mindscapes: A Global History of Psychedelics” is a compilation of the discovery, use and cultural impact of various psychedelic medicines such as LSD and psilocybin throughout the 20th century.

While much of the accepted history and understanding of psychedelics comes from a North American – and primarily U.S. – perspective, the new book edited by Dyck and historian Chris Elcock includes analyses from around the world.

Dyck said psychedelic drugs have a “distinctive” place in medical history due to their role in medical contexts and widespread cultural movements.

“We’ve now got 20 articles that really showcase a dynamic and exciting history of psychedelics that takes place outside of Harvard, outside of Berkely, outside of San Francisco,” Dyck said. “We’re excited to put forward this innovative and novel way of understanding the depth and dynamism of psychedelics as it stretches around the globe.”

Cultural Contexts

In an effort to explore the role of psychedelics around the world, Dyck put out a call for papers on the role of psychedelics in different cultures, which formed the basis for the book.

Zoë Dubus, Ph.D., USask’s Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient in 2023, penned a chapter of the new book that focuses on the role gender played for both doctors and patients for the use of psychedelics in a clinical context in France during the mid-1900s.

Dubus said women were prescribed psychedelics much more often as part of different therapies, and women in France did not have the same ability to refuse them as men – because attempts to refuse medication were seen as “aggravations” of their illness.

“My research is an example of … how the cultural contexts in which psychedelics are taken impacts the way we use them,” she said.

Dubus said including non-North American perspectives in the book was important to show the diversity of research.

“Today, we have the ‘psychedelic renaissance,’ we study the benefits of psychedelics again and we use the techniques of psychedelic therapy,” Dubus explained. “ … But in Europe in the ’50s and ’60s, there was another kind of therapy called ‘psycholytic therapy. Many psychedelic therapists don’t know much about it. I think it’s important for historians and actual medical practitioners to know there were different ways of using psychedelics at that time.”

Psychedelics have emerged as an “attractive” topic to research because of the way the drugs have been used clinically, dropped out of favor and then resurfaced, Dyck said. Both she and Dubus said they hope the new book will highlight the diversity of influence psychedelics have had in communities and cultures around the world.

“We hope that this book shows that not only are ideas about psychedelics changing, but ideas about psychedelics are being drawn from different parts of the world and have different impacts,” Dyck said.